Social & emotional learning conference debuts

Social and emotional learning (SEL), and its connection to behavioral health, took on greater significance in the past two years as students, teachers and schools began to emerge and adapt from lessons learned from life with COVID-19. 

The University of Northern Iowa, with its longstanding graduate school psychology program in the College of Education and programming related to mental health and counseling, brought critically needed focus to this topic with the College of Education’s first Social and Emotional Learning professional development conference in April. The emphasis on introducing the concepts of compassion, empathy and mindfulness in schools attracted more than 750 registrants – among them, UNI students and faculty, practicing teachers, counselors, school psychologists and social workers. 

Social and emotional learning encompasses a “whole person” outlook as part of learning in the classroom. The Iowa Department of Education supports five competencies for social and emotional learning in K-12 classrooms. This event and a new social and emotional learning minor being introduced at UNI in fall 2022 are among the limited avenues for formal learning on the topic in teacher education, notes Nicole Skaar, coordinator of the school psychology program leading to an MAE or EdS.

Aricia Beckman, a retiring instructor in special education who helped lead the planning, cited hearing increasingly about students having difficulty regulating their emotions in the classroom–whether due to reactions to the pandemic or other adverse experiences. “So what can we do to prevent that? That’s where our energies need to go; we need to give teachers skills in their tool bag to support development of skills for teachers and their students,” she says. 

“We have not done a good job historically of encouraging wellness among teachers and support staff. We were beginning to have those conversations before COVID and now it’s even more important,” adds Kerri Clopton, associate professor of school psychology. 

Presentations focused on deepening knowledge of social and emotional learning competencies; promoting self-care and competencies among teachers; creating safe, connected and engaged classrooms for students; and gaining strategies, including the use of literature, to support social and emotional learning. Keynote speakers Patricia Jennings, an expert in SEL, mindfulness and research on teacher stress in the classroom; Susan Verde, author, and Peter H. Reynolds, author and illustrator, who have collaborated with Verde on the “I AM” series of children’s books, highlighted the event which included 20 sessions.  

“High attendance not only revealed the overwhelming interests and needs of Iowa educators, but also reflected their views that the University of Northern Iowa is a trusted source for professional development,” says Beckman. 

The new conference, expected to return in 2023, was supported by a gift to the UNI Foundation by Kenneth Budke, DDS. 


Record participation, learning throughout the year


African American Read-In

While the Social and Emotional Learning Conference was the first fully face-to-face conference in two years,the College of Education engaged hundreds – even thousands – of professionals, students, faculty, staff and community members through a series of online or hybrid  professional development and community outreach events this past year. 

The 16th African American Read-In (February 17) drew a record 2,300 first graders and 16 participating school districts as a reworked virtual format complete with on-site “break’ activities for the students and a special afternoon reading by illustrator Jan Spivey Gilchrist drew in students from around Cedar Valley and beyond.

Pre-Service STEM Conference 2022The Pre-Service Teacher STEM Conference (April 8)  went “hybrid” this year with a combination of live on-campus and virtual sessions at seven participating teacher preparation sites across the state, including the College of Education.  Dana Atwood-Blaine, Curriculum and Instruction, coordinated the planning for an event which attracted 278 teacher prep students and college and university faculty. 

African American Children and Families Conference 2022The 11th African American Children and Families Conference (February 18) attracted more than 400 virtual registrants from near and far as this virtual event focused on “Embracing African American Children and Families’ Unique Qualities.” The conference featured 14 concurrent sessions including a new Black Males Panel, moderated by UNI’s De’Carlos Anderson, which paralleled the popular Black Girls panel. 


Tubbs Teaching Connections 2021The Bill and Linda Tubbs Teaching Connections (November 2021): Teaching and Learning Through a Pandemic,” attracting more than 100 virtual registrants. It featured, among others, these keynote speakers from Western Dubuque Community School District: Rick Colpitts (BA, ‘84; ASC, ‘09); Dan Butler (BA, ‘02; ASC, ‘16; EdD, ‘21) and Kelly Simon, BA, ‘02, elementary and middle level dual; MAE, ‘08).